Season preview: Q and A with Tropics coach Clay Roberts
Florida Tropics coach Clay Roberts is a man with a smile on his face most of the time. That it's a little bigger right now than usual is understandable.
His men's soccer team at Southeastern University are entering the Sun Conference playoffs for the fifth straight year on the heels of a dramatic double-overtime win on the road last weekend in Miami.
And the Tropics will start their second season in the Major Arena Soccer League with a two-game road trip starring Saturday night against the Rio Grande Valley Barracudas, with a significantly improved roster from last year's expansion team that was alive for a playoff spot right down to the final week of the regular season.
The Tropics will play Sunday night at Monterrey before returning to SYKES Field for the long-awaited home opener on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 7:35 against the Cedar Rapids Rampage.
Tickets are available at www.fltropics.com, or by calling the team's offices at 863-240-0101. All games, home and away, are broadcast live at www.masl.tv. Saturday night's opener will start at 8:35 Lakeland time, with Sunday's kickoff set for 6:05 p.m. EST.
The Tropics finished 8-12 this past season, and the top three scorers from that team – Ricardo Diegues, Victor Parreiras and captain Freddy Moojen all return – and will be bolstered by the signing of one of the game's premier scorers, Mauricio Salles. Also inked in the off season was former Orlando City all-star goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo and NASL defensive standout Rafael Alves.
Roberts spent a few minutes this week talking about the upcoming season.
Now that you've had a year to learn the league again, where are you today compared to a year ago at this time?
CR: “Obviously with so many new signings you never know how it's going to go, but I can tell you a week and a half into preseason we are as far as we were at the end of last year. We're now where we ended last season, so it's a whole new look, and players that have a bit more quality than we had last year, so we're way ahead of where I thought we'd be.”
You've been able to practice a lot at an indoor facility in Orlando, something you didn't get a chance to do last pre-season. How much does that help?
CR: “Yes, we made a commitment in the preseason to be in a training facility that has the boards so we could get the best work in possible one to refresh the returning guys and two to introduce the new players to the team. It's been great. We've had fantastic practices and we still have another week to go to kind of finish off the necessary items that we need to cover.”
You've got almost your whole team back from last year – including the top three scorers in Ricardo Diegues, Freddy Moojen and Victor Parreiras. How important is that in getting ready?
CR: “It's massively important. We wanted to keep the good core from last year's team that ended so well. I think we spent half the year teaching last season and half the year we got it, and that's when we were pretty good. To keep that core, and then add what we feel are more experienced, a little bit more high profile players, it makes for a good mix. Obviously this team has to create its own identity, but the baseline that we have is way farther than last year and so that's exciting.”
Scoring more is going to be a priority, without sacrificing scoring chances to the other team. How do you do that?
CR: “The personnel is the thing that we had to advance on, so to bring in a Mauricio Salles (195 goals in 162 career arena soccer games), Tyrone Hall, Lucas Coutinho just finished the summer with the Cosmos, two players who aren't yet with us from Brazil, Guilherme and Raphel Schlemper, these are high caliber players and goal scorers. To add them into the nucleus we had, we've essentially doubled our goals if you look at it statistically. So that's where we need to be to compete for a title.”
You've mentioned Mauricio Salles already, and you brought in former Orlando City all-star goaltender Miguel Gallardo. What will fans like about them?
CR: “Miguel is a top goalkeeper. His experience and exposure in the game, and he does have a little indoor experience, and his motivational level and training work ethic is contagious. The guy works hard and the players are feeding off of that, and that's the sign of a mature player leading others. He's already making fantastic saves and reading the game well and playing well with his feet. We're in for a fun year with him on the field. Obviously Mauricio comes off a season where he just lost in the championship game, so he's got a bitter taste in his mouth. So his goal coming here is to help us win a championship. He's already impacted the team with his veteran leadership, his communication with the nucleus we have coming back about how we can do things just a little bit better has already started.”